Doing It, Religiously
[Above: Russian nesting dolls originated in the 19th Century. They were inspired by earlier Japanese dolls that depicted nested series of Japanese gods -- a polytheistic image.]
Anitra and I spoke Friday at Tim Harris' University of Washington class on poverty and homelessness. After the class, Tim drove me back to the Real Change office while Anitra ran off to spend all her money on tomato plants. In the car Tim played the recording (see A True Revolution of Values) he made of himself backing up Martin Luther King Jr.'s Riverside Speech on the guitar.
The speech contains this passage:
"This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept -- so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force -- has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:
Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us."
The call for love is great, but at the risk of once again prompting the question "So, Wes, when did you first decide to worship Satan?" (answer: The first time some idiot asked me that question) I am going to heap disrespect upon the monotheological underpinnings of King's call to fellowship and offer a polytheistic perspective.
Consider this a continuation of my rant, begun with Extremes of Worship, in which I complained about the notion that all religions are fundamentally the same, that we all worship the same God, blah, blah, blah. Notions that invariably disregard whole swaths of hard-core polytheists.
Oh sure, King is fine with Hindus and Buddhists, as long as they agree with him in the existence of an ultimate reality. But he would compare to "Nietzsches of the world" anyone who doesn't buy into that ultimate reality, and guess who those people include? Me. And I'm not a Nietzsche of the world.
King supports his view with a quote from St. John, the same guy (?) who put the words "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" into Christ's mouth. Way to kiss up to the non-Christians. Not.
My own polytheistic view, (not to be confused with all of them, which is an undelimitable generality of no significant application) is at odds with all the great religions of human-kind but nevertheless still ends up agreeing with the call to love, is that there is no ultimate reality.
In fact, a large class of the gods can be identified with the individual realities "on the shelf."
Realities are narratives about what is, and decide what is. The decisions as to what is are mindful. Without mind there is no what is. There is no reality.
There is no singular ultimate mind. There are minds and states of minds and realities, plural. There are realities within realities, gods within gods. There are realities that are unstable, that transform into other realities, which transform into others.
The gods (of this class) are metaphors for these realities, or they are these realities. The distinction doesn't matter, since the word "god" is totally up for grabs since nobody else ever gives it a legitimate definition anyway. (A legitimate definition being one which allows you to identify whether an entity is a god or not, as opposed to naming an entity that is presumed to exist, declaring it to be unique, and listing attributes.)
So where does that put us? No ultimate reality, so Martin Luther King Jr.s call for love, in so far as it's based on a presumed ultimate reality that doesn't exist, is BS.
John's assertion that Love is God, becomes, to the polytheist, Love is A god.
So how can I still agree with King?
The answer is that even though polytheists do not believe in any ultimate reality, we are not thereby forced to be naive relativists, granting equal value to all that calls itself value in any reality that comes down the road.
I am NOT Nietzschean! In spite of sharing some superficial similarities. I use exclamation points and short one and two sentence paragraphs, yes, but there are such things as Wes realities distinct from Nietzsche realities. I am someone else.
[Right: Not me.]
My realities have grown out of my life, and I have been my realities, and I, or rather my realities, have chosen how we were to grow, and we (the realities that I consist of) have histories and dynamics and we grow into each other and we have identities within identities, and we can own ourselves and what we are.
The outcome is, I can agree with King not because God is within me, but because THAT god is one of me, and I have chosen to embrace it.
The difference between the polytheist decision to embrace a god and the monotheistic decision to embrace that aspect of The God, is the difference between a free choice (modulo the understanding that we are our choices) among alternatives and a decision to surrender to an irresistible power.
The god of love is NOT an all-powerful god. It IS weak, as the "Nietzsches of the world" would have it. But I differ from the Nietzsches of the world in that I consciously take the side of this weak god over stronger ones, to add my strength to it. Weak, yes, cowardly, no.
[Below: Cat-gods within cat-gods.]